What my (step)son’s mother said to me at his wedding
I planned an early start. I packed my new shoes, my new dress. My camera batteries were charged. I had water and fruit to sustain me on the ride. Music and audiobooks ready to keep my spirits high. There wasn’t a detail of my trip I hadn’t planned for. I was looking forward to it and I was dreading it.
I’d have to see my ex again. It would be the first time in six years. I’d have to see his ex-wife. It would be the first time that I’d be the other ex-wife. All of these things occurred to me, and I laughed. None of it mattered. It didn’t matter that I was alone. I didn’t care that my ex would be with his new partner. I was free and happy.
Three miles from home, my car alerted me that the air pressure in one of my tires was critical. I was still on a local road. I drove to a tire store. I had a nail in my tire. It went all the way through. I couldn’t drive eight hours on a spare. I looked at the mechanic straight in the eye and said, “Look, my son is getting married this weekend, I need to get to Maine tonight for the rehearsal dinner, what can you do for me and how quickly can you do it?” I got a pair of new tires installed. When I left, I was only forty-five minutes behind schedule.
It was a sweltering Friday in July. With only myself for company, there was a lot to think about and remember. Maine was where I married my ex twenty years earlier when I was the same age as my son. I wasn’t going to make his wedding about my not-anniversary, or my regrets. I married a family, a boy and a man. I always loved us as a family. I tried to love my husband. If only, if only it hadn’t been such hard work. I wanted my son and technically, he didn’t belong to me. The only way I could be his mother was to marry his father. As I was driving, I remembered how much I had wanted to run away before I walked into the church.
Every year, twice a year, the three of us and our dog made the trip up to Maine to see the in-laws. We did that together for seventeen years. Now our family of three had divided and gone off in three different directions.
I remembered the beginning. I remembered how I was the first woman to whom my son had proposed. He asked me to marry his father. We had only been dating a few months. I didn’t say “yes”, of course, and I didn’t say “no”. I said, “we’ll see.” But I knew. This kid, not his father was my soulmate. I had the sense that in another life I had been his older sister or his mother. I just loved him. I loved him the first time I met him and it would be impossible to stop after that.
It was 99 degrees and as I began to hit traffic slowdowns in the never-ending highways of Connecticut. My air conditioning died. That had never happened before. I turned it off, opened the windows and hoped for the best. Periodically, I turned it back on and it would go out again after a little while.
When I reached the Massachusetts Turnpike, I knew it wouldn’t be much longer. I’d shower, change, get to the restaurant and drink as much as I could, smile as much as was expected. I’d muster up what small talk I could.
Then traffic came to a standstill. We crawled along. I tried a traffic app. It steered me to the next exit and then when I got on it, it tried to steer me back. At that point, every artery was clogged. Every nearby road. What should have taken an hour, took me four.
I arrived in Portland at 9:30 pm. My clothes were sticking to me. My eyes and hair were full of auto exhaust fumes. I found the bed and breakfast I booked instead of the hotel where all the other wedding guests were staying. I wanted to be in the city. I wanted to be on my own.
Every room in the place was named for a romantic poet. All but one. Mine. I had the Dorothy Parker Suite. It was perfect. There were two shower heads in the shower. The road on my body flowed down the drain in lavender soap bubbles. Then I crawled into bed and fell asleep immediately.
After a late breakfast and a lot of writing, I got into my new red dress. What woman going to a big event on her own doesn’t wear red? I gathered my camera and sunglasses and drove to the pier where the ferry would be waiting to take the wedding party to the little island in the bay.
It was a nice ferry ride. My former brothers-in-law were sweet and attentive. They were always lovely. I never could understand how their older brother lacked the skills they possessed in abundance. When we disembarked from the ferry, there was a piper playing and following us as we walked to the inn. The piper was a family tradition. I remembered the one who played on the hill at my reception. I never liked bagpipe music, but there were times when it was charming.
When I walked into the inn and through the doors to the reception, I steeled myself for whatever was next. The first person I saw was my stepson’s mother. She was at the door waiting for me. As soon as she saw me, she said, “There you are at last! I want to thank you for the great job you did raising S.” She hugged me.
The last time I saw her was at our son’s college graduation. She didn’t acknowledge my existence. All I saw of her was her back. So it was a shock. She said it again. “You did an amazing job.” And hugged me again.
Over the years, I had been jealous of her. She was “Mom” and I was “Anna.” There were times when I was angry about the things she said or did. I learned to keep that to myself, though not as early on as I would have wished.
I had her son with me about twenty-six days a month, and she had him four. I was grateful to her. I was the one who hugged him when he came home from school and before he went to bed. I was sad for her. He was the best kid who ever lived. Some of that best stuff was under a layer of other stuff and he got a label he didn’t deserve, but that’s what happens when kids don’t get their needs met. We worked on that together.
After she thanked me, I cried. I hugged her and we both cried.
I was deeply affected by her kind words. I had expected to see a lot of her back again. Instead, she treated me like a sister. I loved it. We’re polar opposites in our political beliefs and maybe everything else. But there we were, sister mothers, sister ex-wives, at least for one night. We were both happy and it was lovely to share the day with her and it made sense to be with her because we were both mothers of the groom.
All of my former in-laws were loving and kind to me. My ex-husband was okay, but he made me remember how good he was at crushing my soul. My ex-husband’s current girlfriend told me that she’d heard about what a great job I did raising S. I usually just blow off these compliments because I know the truth. I know it was my son who did the hard work he needed to do. Nothing I ever did would have made a difference if he didn’t want it to. He was receptive and determined to change. I heard it over and over again at his wedding. I wondered if people were just unable to think of anything else to say to me.
All I needed was to be able to call him my son. That was always the greatest thing to me because he didn’t have to love me and I didn’t have to love him. There was no biological imperative. I loved him so much, I didn’t even realize he loved me too. It never occurred to me to wonder how he felt about me. When his father and I divorced, he was angry at his dad for a long time. That was the first time I realized he loved me.
My son is an amazing human being — even if I wasn’t his mother, I’d say that. He is accomplished, brave, kind, and giving. I don’t need anyone to give me credit for anything. All I ever wanted was my son’s happiness. His happiness is my joy. He made sense of my life. All the pain I experienced in my own childhood made it possible for me to parent him and meet his unique needs when he was a “troubled” child. But he was never any trouble to me.
Raising him healed me at a soul level. And all the good he does in the world has healed me more. It’s an amazing thing. You never know the meaning of your journey in life until you hit certain points along your path and then you can look back and see.
When I looked at my son that day and saw his joy at being married to his wonderful wife, I saw in him the exact same spirit I saw in him the very first day I met him when he was just eight years old.
The truth is, all I ever did was see who he is and reflect that back to him until he finally saw it too and became the man he was always meant to be.
It was a perfect day. A beautiful day. When my son and I had our dance, we owned the dance floor. This was our song ~
© 2019, A. Breslin. All Rights Reserved